Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Going to Market with a New Product: St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.(Instructor's Note)

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Going to Market with a New Product: St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.(Instructor's Note)

Article excerpt


The primary subject matter of this case concerns the evaluation of alternative channels of distribution for a proposed new business. Secondary issues that can be examined include pricing through channels, the marketing concept and real world considerations, and information collection and analysis. The case has a difficulty level of 3 to 4. The case is designed to be taught in 1/2 to 1 class hour and is expected to require anywhere from no outside preparation to 1 hour of outside preparation by students, depending on how the case is presented. If desired, the case can easily be expanded to cover logistics issues.


St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, located in the Bering Sea, is actually closer to Russia than Alaska. There is very little economic activity on the island, and the native villages of Savoonga and Gambell are very interested in finding opportunities to generate much-needed cash and employment opportunities for their children.

One resource the island has is seaweed. A market study done on behalf of St. Lawrence Island indicates the health food market has been growing over 15%/year and that 30% of health food consumers purchased seaweed vegetables within the past year. One popular seaweed product, kombu, comes from a seaweed available in abundance around St. Lawrence Island.

This case describes the channels of distribution associated with this market, along with representative pricing, and asks students to evaluate three channel alternatives open to the St. Lawrence Islanders. The proposed alternatives can be evaluated by a number of criteria, such as economic (cash flow levels and risk), adaptability, and control. Important aspects of channel and buyer behavior uncovered during the market study are available, and may be given during the discussion regarding the alternatives.

The case may be introduced verbally and evaluated through the lecture format, or if desired, students may be required to read the case and respond to questions prior to class.

This interesting, simple case clearly demonstrates channel members perform functions that someone has to perform, and if a level is cut the functions need to be shifted to someone else. Further, the best channel choice for an organization hinges on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the organization.


Recommendations for Teaching

I usually assign this case in the introductory principles of marketing course immediately after a lecture regarding channels of distribution. However, I have also used it successfully in the graduate marketing management class. The case is not long, and need not be complicated, but it generates substantial discussion, and students find it interesting. There are St. Lawrence Island photographs and maps on the Internet, and I usually share these prior to our class discussion (for example, see

In the version of the case presented here three alternatives are presented, and students are guided by a series of questions which guide them through some important considerations. However, I have successfully used this case without providing students with either the three alternatives or specific questions. Instead, I ask students to generate some alternative ways that the St. Lawrence Islanders can get their product to their target market, and ask them to think about what it means for the business, and what they believe would be best in this situation. Simply eliminating the last section of the case makes this possible.

I do not usually ask students to write down their answers. Instead, I use the case to generate a class discussion. As the alternatives are discussed, I put the channel of distribution for each alternative on the board, and I build up a matrix with the alternatives in rows, and various characteristics and criteria as columns (e.g., number of relationships and transactions, number of tasks required, prices/unit, costs, and risks). …

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